Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the tag “Cal Poly Pomona”

Bike Week at Cal Poly

Our Bike Week events last week at Cal Poly Pomona were modest, but they underscored a sense that this longtime car-centric campus may be turning the corner when it comes to transportation.

For one thing, providing parking on campus is getting more expensive, and student parking fees will top $400 a year next year.  No wonder, since the university’s new $40 million parking structure is one of the most expensive buildings on campus, and must be paid for–plus interest–with parking fees.  For many students from low and middle income families, the parking fees are a big burden, especially with tuition and housing costs rising as well.  And then there’s the traffic congestion that makes everyone’s life miserable and a little thing called climate change (emissions from motor vehicles are by far the largest portion of the university’s carbon footprint).  Then there’s safety.  Cyclists and pedestrians have been killed and injured by drivers in and around campus.  Meanwhile an increase in students living on campus has meant more of them getting around on bikes.  The time is ripe for new thinking about transit and bikes, and new campus leadership seems to be taking the issue seriously.

The university’s new President, Dr. Soraya Coley, has been supportive of efforts to encourage alternative transportation (the previous campus president once threatened to ban bikes from campus). The campus installed new bus shelters last summer and this year we’ll be getting new bike racks and bike repair stands at several locations on campus.  Even bigger changes may be just around the corner, however.

This year the president created a new campus Transportation Advisory Committee that will take a more holistic approach to mobility, and next year’s update of the Campus Master Plan could provide a blueprint for a more bike- and transit-friendly campus.  Better transit connectivity to campus and discount student transit passes will be a priority, but it is in bike infrastructure that we may see some of the most sweeping changes.  I still can’t believe I’m writing these words, but the President recently approved installation of protected bike lanes on a stretch of Kellogg Drive that is being realigned to accommodate new student housing. Yes, you read that right.  By September 2017 there should be protected bike lanes and improved intersections on a roadway where a cyclist was killed by a distracted driver a few years ago.

Friday May 19, our Bike Week was capped by what we hope will be an annual “Town & Gown” ride from the university to downtown Pomona, some 5 miles to the east. The ride, sponsored by the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition, included students and faculty from Cal Poly Pomona as well as community members and special guests like Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval and Javier Hernandez, transportation coordinator for County Supervisor Hilda Solis.  We were also joined by John Burton from the LA County Department of Public Works.

Town & Gown ride in downtown Pomona

Along the way we saw some new bike lanes and sharrows on some of the area streets, and were told by Mayor Sandoval that busy Holt Ave. is slated to get bike lanes when it is resurfaced in the next year or so.

Room for bike lanes on Holt Ave in Pomona.

Most significantly however, the passage of Measure M last year and the County’s new greenways initiative, spearheaded by Supervisor Solis, means that nearby San Jose Creek flood control channel may get a bike path along the levee access road that would connect the campus directly to the city to the east (and all the way to the San Gabriel River to the west).  As part of Friday’s ride, Hernandez and Burton temporarily unlocked the gates to the creek and the Town & Gown riders got a sneak peek at the proposed greenway.  It is just a fenced dirt access road now, but with some asphalt and a couple of intersection upgrades, in a few short years it could be a bicycle superhighway that would enable hundreds–perhaps even thousands–of students to ride between downtown Pomona and the campus quickly and safely.

Javier Hernandez (L) and John Burton open San Jose Creek to bikes!

Cal Poly Urban and Regional Planning Professor Gwen Urey, who has championed this bike path for years and who helped organize the ride, noted that her longtime dream may finally be coming true. “Visions of doing the ride on a San Jose Creek route,” she wrote on Facebook after the ride, “have shifted from the stuff of pipes to the stuff of real planning.”  Who knows? Pipe dreams may just come true.

After riding along San Jose Creek


2016 Highlights

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time for taking stock of the year’s developments in car-free transportation in the San Gabriel Valley.

Arcadia Gold Line station.

Arcadia Gold Line station.

At the top of my list is the opening of the Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa.  This brought the Gold Line closer to my house, and allows me to take the train for part of my commute to work at Cal Poly Pomona.  The rest of the trip is on Foothill Transit‘s extensive bus service in the east San Gabriel Valley.  The Foothill Transit 280 and 486 buses run every 15 minutes during peak times, and their new buses are quite comfortable.  The new commute cuts about 15 minutes off my old route through El Monte Bus Station and allows me to bypass the infrequent service of the Metro 487 bus line.  The bike portion of my new commute is also shorter, which makes it more manageable on a regular basis. The easy bike ride to/from the Gold Line now allows me to get around car-free much more easily.  I’ve been heartened by the ridership I’ve seen–including many more people doing multimodal bike-transit commuting east of Pasadena.

Cal Poly bus stop before and after.

Cal Poly bus stop before (top) and after (bottom).


New bus shelters at Cal Poly Pomona.  For too long, Cal Poly’s bus stops on Temple Ave. provided no shelter and little more than a splintered old bench for bus riders (see pictures).  As a result of student activism and new campus leadership, there are two new bus shelters at the main campus bus stops on Temple Ave.  This is certainly a step in the right direction and I’m modestly hopeful for additional progress on transit and bike access to campus.

Thanks to the work of many local advocates, progress toward new bike plans have been made in Pasadena, Monrovia, and La Verne.  With better infrastructure, I’m confident we’ll see an uptick in bike ridership, which in turn should lead to even more bike infrastructure in the future.  Despite these small victories, the pace of change in the SGV is so slow and incremental that it barely registers today. Too many streets are unsafe for cycling and too many destinations are hard to get to by bike and when you arrive, they often lack basic bike amenities like bike racks.  It’s easy to feel angry about the lack of good bike infrastructure that places people at risk and deters others from riding in the SGV, but there are good people working to change this, and they must be given due credit.  The advocates at BikeSGV, for example, have done some wonderful work organizing community rides, setting up the Bike Education Center in El Monte, advocating for complete streets, and bringing a multi-city open streets event to the SGV.  They honored me this past year with an award for my bike advocacy, an award for which I was hardly worthy, but profoundly honored, nonetheless.  I draw hope and inspiration from these fellow advocates.

More protected bike lanes, like this one in Santa Monica, are needed in the SGV.

More protected bike lanes, like this one in Santa Monica, are needed in the SGV.

Education and outreach.  In 2016 I was involved in an alternative transportation project at my daughter’s high school and an alternative transportation conference at Cal Poly Pomona. I also was privileged to speak on “cycling and social justice” to a group of inmates in a Prison Education Project at the invitation of one of my fantastic colleagues at Cal Poly, political science professor Dr. Renford Reese.  In general, I found many of the people I spoke to open to the message of bicycling, walking, and transit for healthier communities. Spreading the message of the many benefits of car-free alternatives was deeply gratifying.

Scott Schultz of BUSted Los Angeles speaks to students at Cal Poly's alternative transportation conference in November.

Scott Schultz of BUSted Los Angeles speaks to students at Cal Poly’s alternative transportation conference in November.

Measure M.  The half-cent sales tax for transportation passed in Los Angeles by a healthy margin (approx. 70 percent voted yes).  This will mean expansion of Metro rail, local bus service, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  Measure A, a countywide tax for parks, also passed, which means LA County will have funds for turning many of its now-barren flood control channels into “linear parks” with multi-use paths. Such victories give me hope.

Notable Books and Films of 2016:

  • Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment by Winona Hauter. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of oil and natural gas is neither safe nor a “bridge fuel” to sustainable energy.
  • Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America by Christopher F. Jones.  Technically, came out last year, but it was new to me this year, so I’m including it here.  Jones, an historian at Arizona State University, weaves a fascinating story of how the infrastructure of fossil fuel was created in the United States, and offers a deeper understanding of how energy transitions take place–essential knowledge as we transition away from a carbon economy. His research also underscores the central importance of pipelines for the delivery of fossil fuel and the expansion of the carbon economy, and thus the importance of blocking the construction of new pipelines in the fight for a livable climate and clean water.
  • Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan.  The lively story of how Sadik-Khan, former transportation commissioner for NYC, overcame opposition and redesigned many of New York’s streets to be more bike and pedestrian friendly.  Essential reading for any alternative transportation advocate.
  • Before the Flood (documentary film) directed by Leonardo DiCaprio.  Surprisingly good climate change documentary that doesn’t let Westerners’ high-consumption lifestyle off the hook.
  • Bikes vs. Cars (documentary film) directed by Fredrik Gertten.  Technically released Dec. 2015, but wasn’t available until this year.  If you want a good primer on why bikes are and must be a key component of sustainable urban transportation as told through the eyes of several bike advocates in cities around the world, this film is for you.

Thought for 2017: Every bike used for transportation is an instrument of peaceful revolution, every car-free trip a step towards a more equitable, sustainable future.

Turn the Page

The new year provides an opportunity to look back on 2015 and ahead to 2016.  As always, it’s a blend of  disappointment that much-needed changes have been so slow in coming, gratification for the accomplishments, and hope for a continued shift in our transportation priorities in the future.  What is offered here is a highly personal, mostly local, list of the best of 2015 and some of my aspirations for bikes and alternative transportation in 2016.

The best of 2015:

  1. A shift in the conversation about climate change.  2015 may well be seen as the year the global community got serious about recognizing the necessity of radical action on climate change.  The Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change, “Laudato Si,” provided a powerful moral argument for reducing carbon emissions while addressing the combined social and environmental injustices of the current economic model.  Then, in December, leaders of over 190 nation-states met at the Paris Climate Summit and agreed to commit their nations to voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Pressure from citizen activists from around the world and from vulnerable nations elicited an “aspirational” goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial averages.  While the agreement lacks any binding enforcement mechanism, it is an important starting point from which continued climate justice activism can and must proceed.  In order for these goals to have any chance of success, transportation sustainability (and equity) are going to play a role.  That means transit and bikes.
  2. Construction of Phase 1 Extension of the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa was completed.  The extension opens up possibilities for more transit choices in the San Gabriel Valley, and eliminates one more excuse for people who live nearby to go car free or car light.

    Bike parking at Arcadia station.

    Bike parking at Arcadia station.

  3. CicLAvia came to Pasadena!  The fun of cruising down a car-free Colorado Blvd. with thousands of other people still brings a smile to my face and reminds us why we must continue to push for more car-free space (temporarily or permanently) in our cities.  The car-free movement continued to spread in 2015, as iconic Paris opened its streets to people for a day in September. CicLAviaPas3
  4. New Bike Co-Op opened in El Monte.  BikeSGV’s new bike co-op, the Bike Education Center, provides a space for people from the local community to build or fix their own bikes.
  5. Metro’s Bike Hub at El Monte Bus Station. An important amenity for transit users who want a secure storage space for their bikes and a place for quick bike repairs right on the premises of the transit station.
  6. Pro-Bike Mayor elected in Pasadena.  The election of Terry Tornek as Mayor of Pasadena means that City Hall will continue to provide strong leadership for transit, walking, and bicycling in the city.
  7. Mobility 2035.  LA City Council passed an ambitious mobility plan that, if implemented, will provide more sustainable mobility choices for people in LA.
  8. Local bike infrastructure.  This is the weakest of 2015’s accomplishments.  But it is important to applaud any improvement.  For me, the bike lanes on First St. in Arcadia, near the new Gold Line station, even though they only stretch for about half a mile, are a sign that the city is trying to accommodate bicycle commuters.  Here’s hoping they are extended in 2016.

What I’m anticipating/hoping/wishing/working for in 2016:

  1. Gold Line extension opening, March 5, 2016.  This is a red-letter day for sure.  Looking forward to that first ride out to Azusa.
  2. Monrovia’s new bike plan.  Monrovia, at the behest of it’s local active transportation advocacy group Move Monrovia, has contracted with Alta Planning to produce a bike plan for the city.  I’m anxious to see the new plan and work with local advocates to make sure it gets approved and funded.
  3. Golden Streets 626: The San Gabriel Valley’s big open streets event, June 26, 2016 (i.e., 6.26)
  4. More bike lanes … everywhere.  Bike lanes are good.  Buffered bike lanes are better, and protected bike lanes (a.k.a. “Cycle Tracks”) are best.  I’m especially hoping to see some progress in Pasadena, Temple City, Arcadia, Monrovia. Et tu, El Monte?

    First Av. bike lane to Gold Line in Arcadia.

    First Av. bike lane to Gold Line in Arcadia.

  5. More bike racks (not the crappy, wheel-bender kind) … everywhere.
  6. Commitment from university administrators for a transit center on Cal Poly Pomona’s campus.  Cal Poly Pomona, where I teach, currently has no transit stop on campus.  Bus riders are forced to walk a long distance to sit on a splintered bench on Temple Ave.  Yet the University is building a multimillion-dollar parking garage and raising student parking fees.  Time for this otherwise “green” campus to make its transportation system green, too.

    What passes for a "transit center" at Cal Poly Pomona.

    What passes for a “transit center” at Cal Poly Pomona.

  7. Buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Blvd.  This has long been on my wish list.  There’s no reason it can’t be done.  The street is wide enough, the traffic speeds warrant it.  Hasn’t happened yet.  Still, I’ll keep asking ….

Happy car-light 2016 to all, and remember, there’s no such thing as a “green” car.  Whenever possible, leave your tin polluter box at home.  Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Walk, bike, take the bus or train.  It makes a difference!

Bike Week Log

Monday, May 12:  Rode to school with my 8th grade daughter, as we do just about every Monday morning for the last year or so.  The ride takes us about 35 minutes, but affords us a nice father-daughter time together, especially when we’re on some of the quieter streets on the route.  The middle portion of the ride is on a busy, moderately high-stress Sierra Madre Blvd between Michillinda and Victory Park, where auto speeds can reach more than 40 mph.  Even though this street has bike lanes, as I’ve argued before, they’re inadequate, and the intersections have right turn lanes that bicyclists must steer around if you’re not turning right.  Right-turn lanes themselves aren’t so bad, but high traffic speeds for right-turning cars are.  A green right-turn arrow at the intersection of S.M. Blvd. and Sierra Madre Villa means cars barreling down the road into the right-turn lane don’t need to slow down.  Clearly this wasn’t designed by anyone who ever walks or rides a bike.  A myopic car-focus on intersection design is the cause of this poor design.  As long as the City of Pasadena’s DOT does not address high-stress streets like this, bicycle mode share in this part of the city will not increase.  The street is plenty wide enough for buffered bike lanes, but the will has been lacking at Pasadena DOT.  Once we get past the high-stress part, though, it is a glorious ride.

After school, my daughter notices that her rear tire is completely flat.  My wife picks her up from school and when she gets home I show her how to inspect her inner tube.  We find no puncture, and reinflate the tire.  Problem is chalked up to (most likely) middle school boys letting the air out of her tire.  Little do they know their little prank enabled my girl to learn how to fix her flat tire.  We had a good laugh and she remains undaunted.

Good news released this day, too.  A new report from the LACBC documented a healthy 7.5% increase in L.A.’s bike ridership since 2011, including big increases on routes with new bike infrastructure.  L.A. is moving in the right direction, thanks to advocacy by groups like LACBC.

Tuesday May 13:  An early day today, with an unexpected multimodal commute disaster that turned out positively.  I’d planned on taking the early bus and get to Cal Poly Pomona in time for a roundtable discussion with University officials and students about how to make the streets around Cal Poly safer for bicyclists.  I take a Metro bus that stops near my house and transfer to a Foothill Transit bus that takes me to Cal Poly for my morning commute.  That way I don’t get sweaty in my work clothes.  I almost always ride my bike back home from the El Monte bus station at the end of the day.  It’s all uphill, but the hour-long ride from El Monte is a good end-of-day workout and de-stresser.

This morning I text message Metro and the bus is supposed to be at my stop in 10 minutes.  It takes me about 4 minutes to ride down to the bus stop from my house and I leave with plenty of time to spare.  However, as I get within about 50 feet of the bus stop, I see my bus fly by.  Today the damn bus is 4 minutes early!  This bus only runs once every half hour, and I really need to get to work early today.  I take off on a sprint after the bus.  There’s a stop about half a mile down the street and if I can catch up, I’ll make it.  About half a block behind the bus, I yell for the passenger at the corner to tell the bus to wait.  I guess she doesn’t hear me and the bus takes off.  There’s a traffic light in another mile … if the bus catches the red light, I just might be able to catch up.  Pedaling furiously, I watch helplessly as the bus sails through the intersection on a green light.  I, on the other hand, catch the red.  Should I ride back home and drive to work?  Hell no.  Since I’ve already gone more than a mile toward the station, I decided to ride the rest of the way to the El Monte station, where I can pick up the Foothill Transit bus (which run every 15 minutes) and avoid being too late.  To my surprise, the ride to EMS is much faster (and less strenuous) than the ride home, because it’s almost all downhill.  Morning traffic is not too heavy, and, while I don’t beat my bus there, I do make it in time to catch a subsequent Foothill Transit bus to Cal Poly and I’m only 15 minutes late to the meeting (rather than 30 minutes late if I’d waited for the next Metro bus).  I also learn that if I miss my Metro bus, I can ride to EMS.  Metro, you let me down today.  My bike didn’t.

Gwen_Bike Week

Wednesday, May 14:  An uneventful multimodal commute today.  Buses were on time and not too crowded.  This afternoon Dr. Gwen Urey and I led a workshop on bicycle safety for students.  About 7 or 8 showed up and it was covered by the student newspaper.  Best part was I got to wear my “Bike Week Volunteer” t-shirt.  Bike culture at Cal Poly Pomona is still small, but I’m impressed and heartened with how it is steadily growing.  Temps in LA were in the low-100s, but I rode home after sunset, had plenty of water, and the ride allowed me to unwind.


Thursday, May 15:  Bike to Work Day at Cal Poly Pomona.  Did my regular multimodal commute, but I proudly wore my “One Less Car” T-shirt, which the students loved as I rolled up to the B2W table the University Cycling Coalition had set up.  The students were offering free bagels, coffee, and orange juice to all bike riders, and there was a great feeling of camaraderie among the participants.  It was inspiring to see Rob, one of my colleagues, ride to work from Pasadena, despite the heat.  I know it is a small thing, but it is nice to get a little recognition for doing the right thing when so much of the time our car-centric society is either hostile or indifferent to our existence.

Friday May 16: Stayed home, caught up on work.


Saturday May 17:  The only time I used my car this week.  Drove to the beach for an early morning surf session. Afterwards, rode my bike along the beach bike path to Huntington Beach, where I bought a gift certificate for a beach cruiser rental for a friend.

Final thoughts on Bike Week 2014:  Last year during bike week I was feeling thoroughly discouraged.  The death of a student cyclist at Cal Poly and the lack of safe bike infrastructure on the streets around the university seemed to make a mockery of the week’s festivities.  This year, the challenges have not gone away, but I see signs of hope.  A new student-led bike advocacy club at Cal Poly has reinvigorated the discussion of bike infrastructure around the university and two young colleagues of mine, one of whom is in my department and both of whom have offices near mine, regularly ride to work.  The city of Pomona has a new bike plan, and there is renewed discussion of a bike path along a nearby creek that would provide a safe route from the Pomona/Claremont area to campus.  Near my home in the San Gabriel valley, bike advocacy is still small, but it is growing and showing signs of influencing local decision-makers.  Groups like Bike SGV, Move Monrovia, and the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition are organizing and advocating for bike and pedestrian friendly streets.  I now have been certified as a bicycle safety instructor and have found new opportunities to teach bike safety to the next generation.  Finally, I’ve been consciously focusing on the positive in my own life, avoiding the enervating negative energy that can paralyze me as I try to move (literally) in a positive, sustainable direction.

These are reasons to be cautiously optimistic this Bike Week.  The movement continues.

The Bike Lane Brush-Off

Less than two weeks after the tragic death of Cal Poly Pomona student Ivan Aguilar on Kellogg Drive, the administration at Cal Poly has revealed its opposition to any suggestion that bike lanes be installed on the road where Ivan was killed.  In a recent article in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, a campus administrator essentially dismissed calls for bike lanes on Kellogg Drive.

“Kellogg Drive, to handle the volume of traffic that’s on it, needs to remain a four-lane road, two on each side. Right now, there’s no room for additional bike lanes.”

Never mind that there isn’t currently a single bike lane anywhere on campus (a fact which led blogger CLR Effect to write last week that he was “shocked” at the virtual absence of any bike infrastructure on campus), so one wonders what “additional” bike lanes the university is talking about.  It makes it sound as though greedy cyclists already have plenty of bike lanes on campus, but want more.  The University also implicitly dismissed calls for measures that would appreciably reduce traffic speeds to make the roadway safer.

“We set the speed [on Kellogg Drive] based on the recommendations based on the traffic that needs to travel on that road. The 45 mile per hour limit was put in on that road based on that recommendation.”

Both statements indicate that Cal Poly administrators’ primary criteria for their roadways is to maintain the volume and speed of automobile traffic on campus arterials (and perhaps to shield the university from lawsuits).  The safety and accessibility of campus for bicyclists barely registers in their minds.  Regardless of administrators’ comments, which are revealing enough, the design of the campus’s roadways speaks volumes.  When roadways are engineered exclusively, or even primarily to maximize  the volume of high speed automobile traffic, that is precisely the way they work.  To use that as an excuse not to change when it is proven to be dangerous, however, is unconscionable.

According to the article, the campus might consider widening Kellogg Drive to accommodate bike lanes at some point in the future, but the likelihood of that happening any time soon, given the perennial budget crunch in the CSU, is virtually nonexistent.  Moreover, simply painting a bike lane along a 45-mph four-lane arterial would still be unsafe, unless traffic speeds were slowed and/or a physically separated bikeway were constructed.

The university’s message is clear:  bicyclists will be tolerated as long as they do not take an inch of roadway space from cars—and so long as they do not require any motorist to lift his right foot ever so slightly from the gas pedal on the way to the campus’s multimillion-dollar parking garage.  While I am not surprised that bicyclists’ safety got the brush off, I am somewhat surprised at the bluntness of the brush off.  The university’s statements in the press reveal its mindset about campus transportation.  Bikes are for Euro-wimps, eco-freaks, fools, and poor people.  “Real Americans” drive cars to school, and drive them fast.

What is perhaps most distressing about this 1950s transportation mentality is that it comes from an institution of higher learning that looks to the future in so many other ways.   Today, in cities and at universities all over the country, mobility is being re-thought outside the auto-centric perspective of the post-WWII era.  A growing number of transportation planners and city planners are realizing that we cannot continue to design our roads as if cars were the only legitimate mode of transportation.  All over the U.S., “complete streets” are being redesigned to accommodate multimodal transportation alternatives.

After the death of Ivan Aguilar, I assumed the wisdom of transportation redesign would be apparent to the well-educated people who make decisions at my university.  I should know better than to assume.

Ivan’s Tribute


Yesterday, Thursday March 7, was Ivan Aguilar’s memorial bike ride at Cal Poly Pomona.  As my readers know, Ivan was riding his bike on Kellogg Drive when he was struck and killed by a car on February 28.

I’m going to keep this post short, share some of my images from the event, and let you contemplate the human cost of unsafe streets.

The memorial began at around noon with tributes from students and classmates.  A procession of over 300 students, friends, family, faculty, and staff then slowly made their way to the spot where Ivan was struck down.  There, his hermanos shared memories of him as a friend.  All those who knew him talked about his cheerful personality and how he always made those around him feel happy.  A ghost bike was then placed near the spot where he was struck and will remain as a reminder to all those who pass that spot.  At that point, Campus police blocked traffic on Kellogg, and approximately 100 bicyclists took part in a memorial ride on the route he rode every day to school.


The ride itself was a fitting tribute.  The road, usually noisy with traffic, was silent and peaceful with nothing but the wind in the sycamore trees and the soft whir of bicycles.  I will never forget the sense of peace that came over me at that moment.  I hope Ivan’s soul has found that peace, and that his family might also.


Finally, the ride returned to the ghost bike, where Ivan’s family shared their feelings and expressed their gratitude for the outpouring of support from all who attended.  The entire event was very moving, and I managed to keep my composure until the very end, when Ivan’s sister spoke.  Then I lost it and the tears flowed.


We will not forget you, Ivan.  We will work as long as it takes to make the streets safer for bicyclists.

If you wish to donate to Ivan’s family to help them defray the cost of his burial, you can make a donation here.

R.I.P. Ivan Aguilar

Last Thursday, a beautiful young life was taken on the college campus where I teach.  A 21-year-old Cal Poly student, Ivan Aguilar, was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike on a campus roadway that has fast-moving traffic and lacks bike lanes.  I did not know Ivan personally, but his death hit me hard.  I keenly felt the loss as a parent who worries about his own children, as a bicyclist who knows that a careless driver can change or end my life forever, and as an educator who finds joy helping young people reach for their dreams.  I cannot help thinking about his family and my heart goes out to them.  I cannot begin to fathom their grief.  The 21-year-old should have been stressing about finals, looking forward to spring break, and dreaming about life after graduation.  Not dead.  Damn it, not dead.

A little over a week prior, I blogged about this very same stretch of roadway, and called upon Cal Poly Pomona officials to make it safer for bicyclists by installing bike lanes and traffic calming measures.  Last summer, another dangerous stretch of roadway on campus—Campus Drive—was repaved and it would have been the perfect time to give that street a “road diet” and bike lanes.  But that might have required removing an automobile lane and, in the land where cars are more important than people, this is still seen as a radical idea.  That street, a major connector between student housing, the campus’s main transit stops, and the main campus, remains as dangerous to bicyclists as ever.  We have apparently failed to grasp the urgent need to transition from the energy- and resource-intensive automobile culture to different modes of transportation.  Meanwhile, the climate is changing and people like Ivan are dying.  The status quo is unacceptable.

No one can say for sure that bike lanes and slower traffic speed on Kellogg Drive would have saved Ivan’s life.  But I do know that we have a responsibility to make sure the roads on campus are safer for all road users, and we haven’t done that.  I know that stretch of roadway could be made safer and greener by significantly slowing traffic speeds and making more space for bikes and pedestrians.  I know that the lack of safe road design discourages people who might otherwise bike or walk to school.  I know that we can change, that we must change.  The real question is whether we have the will to do so.

So far, more than 500 people in the Cal Poly community have responded to a call for a memorial ride on campus to put up a ghost bike in Ivan’s memory on the spot where the car took his life.  I hope each and every one of the 500 shows up Thursday, March 7.  And that each brings a friend.  Maybe something good can come from this terrible tragedy if people in power are willing to listen.

Last Thursday, another life was added to the 35,000 to 40,000 Americans who are killed by automobiles every year in this country.  Yet our culture continues to worship at the altar of the automobile, even though it destroys our environment, our climate, and even, as in this case, our children.  It seems a sort of madness to me.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  We need to redesign our roads so that alternative modes of transportation are made safe and convenient.  People are doing this in other cities, other universities, and it works.  Those sleepwalking through this environmental and existential crisis—and unfortunately they are legion, even at places of higher learning—need to wake up and realize that cars are part of the problem, not the solution.  We need bike lanes.  We need traffic calming.  Now.

I’m going to keep saying it to anyone who will listen.  For Ivan’s sake.  And for our own.

Bike Lanes at Cal Poly

Kellogg Dr

Commuting on a bicycle changes your perspective.  Everywhere you go, you recognize the lack of safe road space on which to ride and you constantly wonder, “why hasn’t anyone thought about putting a bike lane here?”  Case in point:  the campus where I teach, Cal Poly Pomona, has a number of access roads to the main campus, including Campus Dr., University Dr., and Kellogg Dr. (shown above).  None of the three roads have bike lanes, though there is space for them on all three.  These roads also provide the main access between the main campus and dormitories and bus stops on Temple Ave.  Providing safe bike lanes on these access roads would benefit those using bikes and public transportation—two modes of travel the University should encourage in order to reduce its carbon footprint.  As gas prices rise, students particularly feel the economic pinch.  Shouldn’t we do simple things like install bike lanes to make sure they have an alternative to the automobile?

In addition to bike lanes, other traffic calming strategies should be employed, insofar as many drivers reach speeds upwards of 45 mph on these roads (the posted speed limits are lower, but there is little traffic speed enforcement on these roads, and the wide lanes and lack of stop signs implicitly encourage speeding).  Near collisions are a regular occurrence, as I witnessed one recent weekday when a car traveling an estimated 40-plus mph nearly missed another car making a left turn in its path (see photo below).  The high speeds understandably deter people from bicycling on these roads, despite the fact that they are the most convenient routes to the main campus.

left turn Kellogg

Road diets and stop signs could go a long way toward making these roads safer by slowing automobile traffic.  The extra 60-or so seconds of commute time would not unduly inconvenience commuters, and the road diet would provide plenty of space for bike lanes on these access roads.  It would also demonstrate a tangible effort to reduce the number one cause of the campus’s carbon emissions: automobile traffic to and from the campus.

Cal Poly has made an admirable effort the past few years to reduce its carbon footprint through energy efficiency in its buildings and operations.  Cal Poly Pomona is home to the renowned Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies, and its College of Environmental Design is filled with faculty doing cutting edge work on sustainability.  Cal Poly President J. Michael Ortiz has spearheaded an innovative campus climate commitment program.  Environmental awareness and a sense of environmental responsibility are high among the student body.  But the elephant in the room is the campus’s continued prioritization of automobile travel through expensive, multi-story automobile parking facilities and high-speed roads that provide no safe space for alternative modes of travel.  In order to begin to reduce this elephant’s carbon footprint, we need traffic calming and bike lanes.

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